Right To Play: EFF Want To Help You Fix Online Games

It happens a lot: a game is loved, but that game is old, and its original developers or publishers switch off the servers required for it to function. At that point the game’s community often steps in by breaking open the code to either find ways around the online copy protection, or to allow its multiplayer modes to function on new player-controlled servers.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organisation who fight for consumer’s digital rights, have now filed paperwork to make this process a guaranteed exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In other words, the practice would stand on firmer legal ground.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, more commonly referred to as the DMCA, is what enables copyright-holders to quickly have copied works taken down when they’re posted online without permission. If you’ve ever seen a previously viewable video vanish from YouTube, there’s at least some chance that was because of a DMCA filing. Unfortunately it’s also frequently used inappropriately as, for example, bots crawl YouTube and file erroneous DMCA claims against non-infringing works. It then falls to the legitimate owner or uploader spend great time and effort fighting against the false claim.

That’s why the EFF regularly fight against the DMCA, and are now filing for the extension and addition of new standing exemptions to the policy. The part relevant to videogames is described thus:

EFF’s other requests this rulemaking include one for users who want to continue to play “abandoned” video games. For example, some users may need to modify an old video game so it doesn’t perform a check with an authentication server that has since been shut down.

The PDF filing itself is available also, and goes into greater detail as to the need for the exemption:

Already, authentication servers for some products using the always-online single player model have shut down, suggesting an uncertain future for these games. Another troubling trend for the preservation and continued playability of games is the move to digital sales mediated by third parties, like Steam, PlayStation Network (PSN) or Xbox Live. In 2013, 53% of game sales were digital – up from 41% in 2012. Although digital sales have numerous advantages, and many consumers find them preferable to buying physical media, they introduce additional failure points into the games. Developers may run their own authentication servers, but games may also be required to “check in” with the platform the game was purchased from. This creates another set of servers that must continue to function for games to be playable.

The asked for exemption wouldn’t apply to MMOs, but would “allow players to continue to explore and play games they already own, and help preservationists remove authentication mechanisms in order to format shift games so that future gamers may enjoy and learn from them.” Which sounds like a very sensible thing, and a much needed thing as more games rely on the internet in one way or another.

Thanks, Gamasutra.

27 Comments

  1. Keymonk says:

    Oh wow that header image is terrifying.

  2. rooppa says:

    Sunday I purchased Dead Rising 2 the complete pack from Steam in the Halloween sales, it did say in the selling notes that it was linked to windows live.
    I assumed, obviously incorrectly, that with windows live now not being available, that I would still be able to play the game in all its glory, but the online options such as multiplayer would not be available.
    Instead, what it does is not allow you to save the game in any format of your progression without signing into windows live. As I am now not able to sign into windows live, there is no way that you can save the game. I saw the warnings about not being able to save progress, but assumed (again incorrectly) that there was some sort of checkpoint system, and if i got to a certain point i could just carry on from there rather than restart the whole thing each time. I was wrong. 1st time I died (yes I sucked at it) I was again greeted with the opening sequence and just sighed at my own false assumption that steam would not knowingly sell a broken game.
    It is things like this that need to be sorted out, and how a game can still be actively sold while knowing that it is broken is just very annoying to say the least.
    I have a ticket with steam asking for my money back for the game as it is broken, but I am not holding my breath.

    • Premium User Badge

      samsharp99 says:

      I know that Steam are very reluctant to give refunds on titles but I’d imagine this might be one of the places that they’d make an exception.

      The fact it’s still on sale is appalling – at the very least there should be warning on the store page saying that you can’t save your game etc.

      • Orija says:

        “Steam are very reluctant to give refunds”
        If a refund is deserved, it shouldn’t matter a whit how Steam support feels about it.

        • Artist says:

          Lets face it: Steam/Valve doesnt care about what shit they sell to their customers unless it can become a PR-disaster! In that case they will step in. (Looking at you, Hammerpoint Interactive!)

        • Dilapinated says:

          “it shouldn’t” does not equal “it doesn’t”, however. In this scenario Valve have all of the power, and most people won’t risk a lengthy and gruelling court case to get back a tiny fraction of the time/energy/money/stress they’d spend fighting for that right to be enforced.

          • Emeraude says:

            Which is all the more convenient that they were allowed to circumvent the best mechanism there was for consumers to deal with such an issue: class action lawsuits.

        • Premium User Badge

          samsharp99 says:

          Yes, I was referring to the fact that their policy most of the time seems to be to not give refunds rather than at the whim of individuals of the support staff. I’ve had problems with them before over it (I had my account locked for a while and can no longer use PayPal as a result – the game over which it happened was £3.74).

    • Keiggo says:

      I’m completely dumbfounded at this. I had no idea the GFWL thing had such a massive impact on the game.

      • rooppa says:

        I have had a few games loose there online function with the loss of GFWL, but that is to be expected, however to have a brand new (its a old title, but it was a new purchase) game not have the ability to save I was as dumbfdounded as yourself. There must however be other games, more than likley also still available on steam, that have this function within it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Mungrul says:

      I didn’t realise DR2 was still affected by this. I haven’t played it in years, but with Capcom’s recent round of making things work without GFWL, I’d assumed DR2 was similarly freed from that particular albatross around its neck.

      What a shame.

    • elevown says:

      I thought you could make an offline gfwl profile, and if you signed into that, the games would work fine and save progress etc in all the non multiplayer modes of any game?

    • Philomelle says:

      But GFWL is still working. They shut down the primary service and Windows Marketplace, but left the authentication servers running precisely because issues like these could arise. In fact, I logged into Fable III right now and it started up perfectly well, with me having logged into LIVE without a hitch.

      Sounds like the problem is on your side, not the game. Not that it should make you worry too much, Capcom promised to transfer Dead Rising 2 and Resident Evil 5 to Steamworks in January/February.

      • benkc says:

        I don’t know if GFWL is still working, but the GFWL that is bundled into DR2 does NOT work. I ran into this earlier this year. My understanding is that it is bundled with such an old version of GFWL that it is both unable to talk to the GFWL servers and unable to auto-update. (And yes, I’m talking about downloading the game from Steam, not installing from a disc or whatnot — the Steam download includes a grossly out-of-date GFWL client.) The solution that a friend of mine used, but I couldn’t be arsed to, was to nuke the GFWL that came with the game, download GFWL straight from Microsoft’s site, let that auto-update repeatedly (because the newest available download from the website is nowhere near the current version, but is at least able to self-update), and once that’s all done, sign in through that standalone client; and only THEN launch DR2, at which point it should see that you’re signed in and allow you to play.

        Like I said, I heard all that, and decided that I wasn’t going to bother with that, but rather that I might give it another try once GFWL is stripped from the game.

        Really not OK that it’s being sold in this state, without even a warning.

        • rooppa says:

          I had a muck on with GFWL for hours again the other night trying to get it to work with DR2, eventualy gave up. Thankfully steam have agreed to refund and now placed the £14.99 back into my steam wallet to spend as a whim may take me.

          So all good in the end for myself, however shocking for other purchasing the game at the moment.

    • Metalhead9806 says:

      Why not create a offline profile so you could save? Dirt 2, Flatout UC and GTA 4 are the same way. make a offline account.

      • rooppa says:

        Was not aware of the whole offline account thing, Thank you for letting me know about it. Will try when get in from work. Also means I can then cancel the thread I have open with Steam. Cheers

  3. Premium User Badge

    RaveTurned says:

    For a moment there I thought the headline meant the EFF was trying to help us rig eSports matches.

  4. Henchimus says:

    Julius Malema wants to fix online games? Oh sh…

  5. LionsPhil says:

    Awesome. Go EFF.

  6. David Bliff says:

    Timely article, given your SWAT 4 “Have you played?” article today. I think there’s a mod which moves the multiplayer away from Gamespy.

  7. jrodman says:

    The EFF is pretty damn awesome. They’re worth supporting, especially if you live in the U.S.A., because they lobby for law change here.

    As someone with citizenship elsewhere, the balance is harder to judge, as you’d be funding fixing U.S. laws, which do have a way of being .. uh.. … “shared” with the rest of the world when it comes to copyright and such.